China room

Sunjeev Sahota, 1981-

Book - 2021

"A transfixing novel about two unforgettable characters seeking to free themselves-one from the expectations of women in early 20th century Punjab, and the other from the weight of life in the contemporary Indian diaspora Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. Married to three brothers in a single ceremony, she and her now-sisters spend their days hard at work in the family's "china room," sequestered from contact wit...h the men-except when their domineering mother-in-law, Mai, summons them to a darkened chamber at night. Curious and strong willed, Mehar tries to piece together what Mai doesn't want her to know. From beneath her veil, she studies the sounds of the men's voices, the calluses on their fingers as she serves them tea. Soon she glimpses something that seems to confirm which of the brothers is her husband, and a series of events is set in motion that will put more than one life at risk. As the early stirrings of the Indian independence movement rise around her, Mehar must weigh her own desires against the reality-and danger-of her situation. Spiraling around Mehar's story is that of a young man who arrives at his uncle's house in Punjab in the summer of 1999, hoping to shake an addiction that has held him in its grip for more than two years. Growing up in small-town England as the son of an immigrant shopkeeper, his experiences of racism, violence, and estrangement from the culture of his birth led him to seek a dangerous form of escape. As he rides out his withdrawal at his family's ancestral home-an abandoned farmstead, its china room mysteriously locked and barred-he begins to knit himself back together, gathering strength for the journey home. Partly inspired by award-winning author Sunjeev Sahota's family history, China Room is at once a deft exploration of how systems of power circumscribe individual lives and a deeply moving portrait of the unconquerable human capacity to resist them. At once sweeping and intimate, lush and propulsive, it is a stunning achievement from a contemporary master"--

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Subjects
Genres
Domestic fiction
Political fiction
Novels
Published
[New York] : Viking [2021]
Edition
First United States edition
Language
English
Physical Description
243 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780593298145
0593298144
Main Author
Sunjeev Sahota, 1981- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In the village of Sunra in Punjab, India, legend has it that the china room, in which women work sequestered from men, is blighted. After all, this is where a young bride, who had seduced her brother-in-law, spent most of her days. Sahota (The Year of the Runaways, 2016) pegs his mesmerizing novel on this tale. His outcast bride is Mehar Kaur. In a single ceremony, she and two other teenager girls are married to three brothers. Mai, the strong-willed matriarch, keeps the girls under strict supervision, but Mehar tries to forge a way out. Fast-forward many generations. Mehar's great-grandson from England visits the family farm in the hope of shaking a drug addiction. Haunted by the racism his family faces, he is visited by a local doctor friend, Radhika Chaturvedi. The narrative switches back and forth in time, from 1929 to 1999, painting remarkable portraits of women straitjacketed by society's strictures. Each woman uses every weapon at her disposal, including her sexuality, to quietly exercise her free will, sometimes at steep costs. Mehar wonders if the essence of being a man in the world is "not simply desiring a thing, but being able to voice that desire out loud." Simultaneously visceral and breathless, this is one knockout of a novel. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Sahota's engaging latest (after The Year of the Runaways) follows a teenage bride in rural Punjab during the British Raj. Mehar Kaur was five years old when she was promised to one of three brothers. In 1929, Mehar, now 15, is married along with two other women to the three, but Mehar still does not know which is her husband. The women live and sleep in the china room, and are alone with their husbands only on those nights when they meet in an unlit room for sex. Mehar mistakenly comes to believe that Suraj, the youngest, is her husband, leading her to drop her veil and sleep with him one afternoon. Suraj realizes what happened but doesn't want to give her up, and Mehar falls in love with him, leading to heartbreaking consequences. Mehar is seen and treated as property, yet Sahota manages to give her the illusion of agency, providing an empathetic look at how she would prefer the world to be. Woven within Mehar's affecting narrative is the less-developed story of her great-grandson, an unnamed man who narrates in 2019, recalling the summer of 1999, when he was 18 and left England for Punjab to battle his heroin addiction. Though the various parts are uneven, it's well worth the time. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (July) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A transfixing novel about two unforgettable characters seeking to free themselves-one from the expectations of women in early 20th century Punjab, and the other from the weight of life in the contemporary Indian diaspora Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. Married to three brothers in a single ceremony, she and her now-sisters spend their days hard at work in the family's "china room," sequestered from contact with the men-except when their domineering mother-in-law, Mai, summons them to a darkened chamber at night. Curious and strong willed, Mehar tries to piece together what Mai doesn't want her to know. From beneath her veil, she studies the sounds of the men's voices, the calluses on their fingers as she serves them tea. Soon she glimpses something that seems to confirm which of the brothers is her husband, and a series of events is set in motion that will put more than one life at risk. As the early stirrings of the Indian independence movement rise around her, Mehar must weigh her own desires against the reality-and danger-of her situation. Spiraling around Mehar's story is that of a young man who arrives at his uncle's house in Punjab in the summer of 1999, hoping to shake an addictionthat has held him in its grip for more than two years. Growing up in small-town England as the son of an immigrant shopkeeper, his experiences of racism, violence, and estrangement from the culture of his birth led him to seek a dangerous form of escape.As he rides out his withdrawal at his family's ancestral home-an abandoned farmstead, its china room mysteriously locked and barred-he begins to knit himself back together, gathering strength for the journey home. Partly inspired by award-winning author Sunjeev Sahota's family history, China Room is at once a deft exploration of how systems of power circumscribe individual lives and a deeply moving portrait of the unconquerable human capacity to resist them. At once sweeping and intimate, lush and propulsive, it is a stunning achievement from a contemporary master"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In 1929 rural Punjab, Mehar and her new sisters-in-law are locked at work in the family’s “china room,” while trying to figure out which of three brothers is her new husband, setting off events that impact a descendent in 1999.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 BOOKER PRIZEFINALIST FOR THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION'S CARNEGIE MEDALNAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2021 BY NPR, TIME, AND THE STAR-TRIBUNE“Sunjeev Sahota's new novel follows characters across generations and continents...Heart-wrenching.” —Entertainment Weekly“An intimate page-turner with a deeper resonance as a tale of oppression, independence and resilience.” —San Francisco Chronicle A transfixing, "powerfully imaged" (USA Today) novel about two unforgettable characters seeking to free themselves—one from the expectations of women in early twentieth-century Punjab, and the other from the weight of life in the contemporary Indian diasporaMehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. Married to three brothers in a single ceremony, she and her now-sisters spend their days hard at work in the family’s “china room,” sequestered from contact with the men—except when their domineering mother-in-law, Mai, summons them to a darkened chamber at night. Curious and strong willed, Mehar tries to piece together what Mai doesn’t want her to know. From beneath her veil, she studies the sounds of the men’s voices, the calluses on their fingers as she serves them tea. Soon she glimpses something that seems to confirm which of the brothers is her husband, and a series of events is set in motion that will put more than one life at risk. As the early stirrings of the Indian independence movement rise around her, Mehar must weigh her own desires against the reality—and danger—of her situation. Spiraling around Mehar’s story is that of a young man who arrives at his uncle’s house in Punjab in the summer of 1999, hoping to shake an addiction that has held him in its grip for more than two years. Growing up in small-town England as the son of an immigrant shopkeeper, his experiences of racism, violence, and estrangement from the culture of his birth led him to seek a dangerous form of escape. As he rides out his withdrawal at his family’s ancestral home—an abandoned farmstead, its china room mysteriously locked and barred—he begins to knit himself back together, gathering strength for the journey home. Partly inspired by award-winning author Sunjeev Sahota’s family history, China Room is both a deft exploration of how systems of power circumscribe individual lives and a deeply moving portrait of the unconquerable human capacity to resist them. At once sweeping and intimate, lush and propulsive, it is a stunning achievement from a contemporary master.